SNAPSHOT by Brandon Sanderson

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It doesn’t shock me that the king of fantasy is also a daft hand at science fiction; it’s not his genre that makes his writing great, but rather his great writing that puts him at the top of his genre. He applies that same level of skill to a different arena and voila, he still blows minds with high-gauge buckshot at every turn.

SNAPSHOT is a short story (available as an eBook or audiobook) about two future cops who can enter a simulated recreation of any single day in the past, and explore it to find evidence that will help solve a crime in the real world.

On one of their routine cases, they stumble across evidence of a serial killer and, despite orders from the brass, they start to chase the clues, to a devastating result.

That’s really all I’m going to tell you, because A) it’s a short story, and B) the less you know, the more you can be amazed by how much Sanderson can cram into a hundred pages.

Other than that, I can only heap praise on the man himself, and how he constantly challenges his own methods to keep giving you something you can’t predict. This story reminds me a lot of his fantasy novella SIXTH OF THE DUSK, wherein I thought I knew what was happening, only to get 90% of the way in and realize I’d been whacked in the face with a verbal tree branch for having ignored certain things that he plainly laid out before me. It’s just uncanny. Whether he’s writing a self-published novella or carpet-bombing you with a 1,000-page paving stone from Tor, Sanderson knows his craft, and knows how to take you apart.

Give it a shot.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: MY FAIRLY DANGEROUS GODMOTHER, by Janette Rallison

TMRGB is a blog series wherein I, a bearded HazMat trucker and blast crewman, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

My Fairly Dangerous Godmother by [Rallison, Janette]

Let’s hop in the way-back-when machine (maybe it’s a phone booth, maybe it’s a crappy car from the 80s, whatevs) and set the clock to 1997. I’m just starting the 8th grade. I don’t know what I’m going to do for a career, beyond writing killer awesome books with like, aliens and explosions and sweet car chases and stuff. And everyone will love my work.

While I daydream about this, sitting at the drawing table in my bedroom and listening to Smash Mouth (WHOOOO 1997) a grown man with a gnarly beard and a plaid wardrobe bursts into my room and tells me that he’s me, 20 years from now.

“Sweet!” Little Graham says. “What do you do for a living?”

Big Graham takes off his shiny Aviator sunglasses and, in a booming voice replies, “I blow things up. And people pay me for it.

“Awesome! Is there anything else I should know? Are you an artist?”

“Yes to the second. As to the first, I read girl books sometimes.”

*Record scratch*. “Wait, what? Why?”

“Peace out, Little Graham. And don’t date any girls named –”

I disappeared before I could tell me who not to date, a typical jerk move on my part.

Back to the present: two weeks ago I had to take a trip up to Northern Nevada to help some blasters blow up part of a gypsum mine. It was pretty sweet. I had, like, two whole days of driving, so I burned through a few audiobooks. One of them was Janette Rallison’s MY FAIRLY DANGEROUS GODMOTHER.

Look, when you play with explosives in exchange for money, you tend not to care about little details, like jumping into a series by reading Book #3 first. Which is what I did here. And fortunately, that panned out okay, because Rallison wrote these in such a way that you can do that. From what I gather, there’s a recurring character in all three books (Chrissie, the titular fairy godmother) who helps out a different girl in each book.

In this instance, we’re dealing with Sadie Ramirez, a girl who botches an America’s Got Talent-esque audition on TV, in front of her celebrity crush. Then she pukes on stage and becomes a viral sensation. Her fairy godmother intervenes to offer her a chance to fix this…by being a conniving little self-serving witch and forcing Sadie into a fairy tale deathmatch that could ruin her life.

(Also, I guess there are hot guys involved. I assume so, from Sadie’s perspective. I myself am wired the other way.)

I frequently found myself smirking at the clever twists and turns, as well as the projection-worthy moments in the story that would totally land with the target audience of teenaged girls who have secret crushes on celebrity guys. They are plentiful, and amusing. On top of that, the life lessons learned by Sadie are good things for young girls to learn as well, namely that of having confidence in one’s self and choosing not to place too much value on what others think of you.

Plus, Sadie’s audition snafu reminded me of Lindsey Stirling, whose entire career since then has been a giant middle finger to Piers Morgan, and I’m a big fan of that. (And her music.)

This book is plenty of good clean fun. I know I enjoyed it from behind the wheel of a Peterbilt with a lowboy Cozad and a bulk truck on the back, despite blowing an inner trailer tire somewhere near Hawthorne, a minor issue that took two freaking hours to resolve. Not that I am bitter; not when I have a book.

Carry on.

KILL THE BEAST is available now!

Out in paperback and on the Kindle.

Kill The Beast by [Bradley, Graham]

Yay! It’s finally here! I had this idea less than a year ago, and after I finished the Engines books I decided to get it out of my system. It was nice to tackle it in a 4-month window, draw a few pieces, edit it half a dozen times, and have it done. This book marks my first effort at designing my own cover, too.

The short pitch, in case you haven’t heard: it’s a different take on Beauty and the Beast, wherein the Beauty character was duped, the Village Hunk was right, and the townsfolk had better get their butts up the mountain to kill the monster in the castle or they’re all gonna be in deep doo-doo.

This book is a classic example of one of the great uses of self-publishing on a cost-effective platform, like Amazon’s CreateSpace. The YA market is drowning in tons, tons of fairy tale retellings and the like. No agent/editor was going to want to hear this pitch, and at only 100 pages long, I didn’t see the point in stretching the story out just to get it to full novel-length.

I was able to solve both of those issues by publishing it myself. It’s as long as it needs to be, it’s what I want it to be, and I had a great time putting it all together. I hope you’ll consider buying a copy and telling me whether you liked it. I intend to get more of my stories out this way, the ones that work anyway.

Thanks again for your support, guys. Every brick makes my foundation stronger. See you out there!

Truck Man Reads Girly Books: THE HOURGLASS DOOR, by Lisa Mangum

TMRGB is a blog series wherein I, a bearded HazMat trucker and blast crewman, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

 

Hourglass Door (Hourglass Door Trilogy) by [Mangum, Lisa]The Golden Spiral: 2 (Hourglass Door Trilogy) by [Mangum, Lisa]The Forgotten Locket (Hourglass Door Trilogy) by [Mangum, Lisa]

 

February continues with recommended romantic reads. This week’s selection features sexy Italian time travelers who play the guitar. Here we go!

In much the same way that Harry Potter spawned a biblical flood of middle-grade fantasy fiction, Twilight had a similar impact on a then-unpopular genre: YA paranormal romance. We may not want to acknowledge Twilight’s cultural impact, or the hunger it created in its market, but it’s there, and we can’t ignore it. Yes, my friends: we finally understand how our parents really feel about disco.

I worked at a Deseret Book in Utah for two years in college, and one of the employee perks that we got to read ARCs of new books before they hit the shelves. THE HOURGLASS DOOR came along, billed as a contender to fill the void in the market, since Twilight had wrapped the previous summer. The premise sounded interesting, so I picked up our store’s copy, and I burned through it in about two days, going back to it whenever I could catch a break between my two jobs and my own writing. What stood out to me then, and remains praiseworthy now, is that in a time when the most iconic book series of its genre featured a shockingly bland protagonist who did nothing but stand by and describe how hot a guy was as he rescued her over and over and over and over, THE HOURGLASS DOOR dared to give us a female lead who actually, yanno, did stuff. 

Sure, there was a mysterious and alluring male lead who had A Dangerous Secret, and an alluring male antagonist who Also Had A Secret, and it was Abby’s job to figure out the secret because of how alluring Boy A was. But don’t let that underlying staple turn you away from the appeal; Dante, our male hero, was a man out of time, catapulted into his future from an Italy 500 years gone, trying his best to blend in and keep a low profile. Nevertheless, his anachronisms surface, and he of course catches Abby’s eye, and things accelerate from there.

And Abby gets involved! She learns Dante’s secret, and she starts to help him! She fights the villain with him! She takes the reins when Dante is sidelined and helps to advance the plot! This was quite a refreshing turn of events. It was also one of the things I liked about Wings, which I rec’d last week.

(Don’t worry, ladies: there’s plenty of face-touching and mouth-whoopie and Deep, Longing Gazes into each others’ eyes.)

So I pitch these books to you if you’re looking for a good fun read that moves well and keeps you interested. Lisa’s a clean writer, making these a safe buy for the young reader in your life as well. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: WINGS, by Aprilynne Pike

TMRGB is a blog series wherein I, a bearded HazMat trucker and blast crewman, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses. Note to hipsters: this is what real irony looks like. Note to young male readers: don’t feel bad for liking girl books. A good book is a good book.

 

It’s February, so it’s fitting that you’d read romance this month. Let me recommend to you the debut paranormal romance series by Aprilynne Pike, a NYT best-seller.

The Wings series is about a girl named Laurel who finds out that she’s a faerie. Whoops! Spoiler? Well no, it’s on just about every description of the book, including the jacket flap, but it’s a revelation to Laurel, who finds out a few chapters in.

The story develops well over the course of the first three books, which span multiple years of Laurel’s high school life. The fourth book takes place in the span of a single day, and justifiably so, as there’s a lot going on. The fifth book, ARABESQUE, happens several years after the conclusion of the original series. I have not finished reading it yet; Pike was posting chapters weekly online, and I read several of them while sitting in a CAT skidsteer on a construction site in Nevada, waiting for clearance from the city to blow up part of the hillside. But that’s neither here nor there.

Now, I won’t regale you with tales of the manly exploits I undertook as I read each novel. I won’t bore you with how I had a fierce cold on a road trip in 2010, and while I was trying to burn it out of my body with the heater on full blast, driving in my AWD wagon across the desert at 80 mph in the dark, I listened to WINGS on audio, and was swept away to the Redwood forests of California, where Laurel lived with her adoptive parents. Nor will I emphasize the fact that I burned through DESTINED whilst camping in a tent on a manly campout with other dudes. My bonafides neither augment nor detract from the merits of these series. It’s worth the read, no matter who you are.

I recommend you read it because it’s good fun. It tickles the love-bone we all have. It’ll fly you back to your teenaged years with no small degree of fondness, and the added benefit of a fun fantasy plot involving Avalon, faeries, trolls, and magic makes it even more enjoyable. As much as I like these books, they’re not even Pike’s best (those reviews are to come later.)

So if you need a good romantic plot to pick at this month, start with WINGS and see where it takes you.

In matters of content warning, be advised that there’s an S-bomb in book one, but this doesn’t happen again in the rest of the series. Other than that, you’ve got teenagers making out in bedrooms and stuff, that’s about as far as it goes.

‘Til next time! Keep on truckin’.

My Best Books of 2016

Here it is! The year-in-review. I read 42 books in print and listened to 50 books via audio. Here were my favorites (and as usual, links go to Amazon):

THE ONLY PIRATE AT THE PARTY by Lindsey Stirling

I joined the realm of Stirlingite Fandom back in 2014, having heard her music before, but not having really appreciated it until then. Once aboard, I was all-in. I picked up this book when it came out in January, and listened to the audio version whilst at work. I’m glad Stirling read it herself, as it’s such a personal story that her own voice was the only one that could tell it and have it hit you right in the heart like it should. Very inspiring, and I found it was great fuel for my own dreams of creative success.

A NIGHT DIVIDED by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I was reading this one as I wrote 2015’s best-of list, and since I hadn’t finished it, I didn’t include it, but this definitely crosses the threshold. Nielsen is a fantastic middle grade writer, and she brings all her talents to the table in this book about a family that was on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall as it went up, and how they tried to get back together.

GIRL GENIUS: AGATHA AWAKENS by Phil and Kaja Foglio

I’d heard of this but hadn’t read it. Glad I finally did, and I want to keep up with the rest of the series. It’s a great graphic novel bursting with color, fun characters, and an exciting story. I really got into it.

MORNING STAR by Pierce Brown

This is the third installment in the Red Rising sci-fi trilogy, about a Roman-esque empire 700 years in the future, which has terraformed and colonized most of the planets in our solar system. When I first read RED RISING, I didn’t get all crazy about it the way everyone else had, but I decided to give GOLDEN SON (book 2) a chance, and it was a big improvement. When book 3 came around, I couldn’t stop listening to it, so much so that I re-listened to 1 and 2 afterword, and both were amazing. So much so that I’m not sure why I didn’t love RR in the first place. Nevertheless, the error has been rectified 🙂

Content warning on this one, there’s a lot of violence, a fair amount of language (F-bombs pop up in book 3) and sexually suggestive stuff in it. (Like I said, space Romans.)

EX-ISLE by Peter Clines

The fifth in his Ex-Heroes series, which is about superheroes during a zombie apocalypse. I won’t link to all of the previous installments, this was just another great book in a highly entertaining series. (Content warning here, similar to the content of the Red Rising books.)

LADY MECHANIKA by Joe Benitez, and contributors

Wow. I hadn’t heard of this comic until I was looking up steampunk clothing pictures for my Engines of Liberty trilogy. A picture popped up of some woman cosplaying as ‘Lady Mechanika’. Naturally curious, I followed the link and discovered Benitez’s work, and was floored at the greatness of it. Lady Mechanika is an amnesiac steampunk woman who’s equal parts special forces/secret agent, like a Victorian Jane Bond. Or maybe Jason-ette Bourne. Either way, the stories are great, the science is interesting, and the artwork is superb. Both omnibus editions made the list this year.

THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY by Thomas E Woods Jr

I wanted to work more non-fiction reading into my annual consumption, and I had this one on the shelf from my brother, so I lugged it around to work. It touched on a ton of stuff that was taught wrong in public school, and included a bibliography of sources that I’ll want to look into in order to expand my understanding. As I said on my Goodreads review, I wouldn’t suggest that it be a forced replacement for any history class, but rather a complement to it, because public school textbooks do not get it right, on purpose.

CTRL ALT REVOLT by Nick Cole

Cole is an author whose book was actually, literally banned by a publisher (as opposed to the sensationalist marketing tactic of calling something “banned” because it didn’t get published.) Naturally this piqued my curiosity, so I read up on it to learn why, and decided to try the  book out. It’s a prequel to his already-established post-apocalypse novels, so you don’t need to know anything going in. The hook of the story is about how an AI monitors human behavior, sees how a slightly-ahead-of-us human generation is so obsessed with a reality TV show that it becomes, in effect, the world religion, and when a character on the show opts to have a convenience abortion, the AI learns that it’s okay to end a life if it’s an inconvenient obstacle to your own plans. Chaos ensues. Entertaining, well-written chaos. (And a mild content warning for the prologue: it’s delicate in its descriptions, but nevertheless deals with sex on a reality TV show, so yeah.)

MIDNIGHT SOCIETY: THE BLACK LAKE by Drew Edward Johnson

Another excellent comic, not unlike LADY MECHANIKA, about a faerie woman who is inducted into a secret society that keeps paranormal stuff under wraps around the world. Delicious, superb artwork, and a really intriguing story. I hope Johnson writes more.

THE REVENANT by Michael Punke

Eventually I’ll see the movie, but I wanted to read the book first. Just wonderful. I thought it might do what many literary books do, and drag on and on about the boring parts, but this thing moves, like Elmore Leonard or a good Louis L’Amour. (L’Amour drags on in some of his books, but not all of them.) Anyway, I really want to see the flick, about a mountain man left for dead after getting mauled by a bear, only to survive, heal, and go on a revenge bender.

SKULLKICKERS #6: INFINITE ICONS OF THE ENDLESS EPIC by Jim Zubkavich and contributors

I’ll be here all day if I gush about this hilarious, HILARIOUS graphic novel series. The cartoonish art is perfect, the humor is unique and original, and the dialogue is just ace. It’s a fearless, mind-bending series that isn’t afraid to be weird, and is smart enough to be good at the same time. This one was simply the final collection in the series.

MEDITATIONS by Marcus Aurelius

With the electoral climate being what it was in the USA all throughout the year, I wondered what kind of philosophy would be prudent for all Americans to embrace regardless of political values. Plenty of people suggested Stoicism, so I looked into it, starting with Aurelius’ MEDITATIONS. I grabbed a free edition off of Gutenberg.org (free public domain ebooks) and loved it. Some of the stuff grated with my own beliefs, but was presented in such a way as to be approachable in a discussion. America really needs this book, these writings. As a side note, I recommend THE DAILY STOIC by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, which also incorporates the writings of Seneca and Epictetus, who were Stoics like Aurelius.

THE CREEPING SHADOW by Jonathan Stroud

Another flawless installment in the Lockwood & Co series, about teenaged ghost-hunters in modern day London. Every fall, Stroud releases one of these books, and I devour them in their perfection.

HEARING THE VOICE OF THE LORD by Gerald N. Lund

On the religious front, I picked up Lund’s piece on revelation. After having heard him give a conference on the subject in February of 2005, I was interested in reading more, and this book goes into great detail about how revelation works, how it doesn’t work, and how we can recognize when God is communicating with us. I found it very enriching.

GLITTER by Aprilynne Pike

Up-front confession: Aprilynne is a friend of mine. That said, I’m friends with a lot of writers, and they publish once or twice a year, and after a quick scroll-up through this list, only one other had a book that made it, and that’s Jennifer Nielsen. Books make this list because they deserve it, and GLITTER is no exception. Branded as a mashup of Marie Antoinette and Breaking Bad, it’s set in a futuristic France, where the Palace of Versailles is equal parts historical landmark and corporate headquarters. In an act of corporate hostility/palace intrigue, our heroine Danica is suddenly engaged to the young King, and desperately wants a way out, so she starts dealing designer drugs mixed with makeup. Aside from knowing that this can only go horribly wrong, the story is pretty unpredictable from there (at least it was for me, I don’t watch Breaking Bad). This book did what I want books to do: it pulled me in and made me want to keep reading, so I did, and you should too. (Minor content warning, there are a few PG-13 words in the book, and part of the intrigue centers on non-explicit sexual blackmail.)

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM STRANGER, INTERDIMENSIONAL INSURANCE AGENT by Larry Correia

Available in audio only, narrated by Adam Baldwin (aka Jayne Cobb, from Firefly.) If you’re familiar with Larry’s blog, you’ll get a lot of the inside jokes in this wacky, wacky, wacked out wacky story. If you’re not familiar with the blog, you’ll still laugh at this crazy funny tale, which wraps up at just the right point in its wacky progression. I hope more writers do funny crazy stuff like this as a palate cleanser, because Larry scratches an itch with it.

 

You should read the “Matt Cruse” novels, by Kenneth Oppel

It’s a trilogy, set in Canada, somewhere in the early 1900s. Some of the history has been tweaked and fictionalized–airships abound, as do unnatural creatures. That being said, in each of these books, Oppel manages not to do what you think he’ll do.

These are stories that set the table quickly, serve up a few different dishes, and then pass the plates around so that you get a little bite of everything, enough to make you want all of it.

They are written very smoothly, they read very easily, and the characters just pop to life on the page. Each of them has a clear and unique motivation, and these motivations clash and drive everyone in adventurous–yet believable–directions.

You’re not just reading airship fantasy. You’re reading a fine tale of young love, rampant imagination, swashbuckling villains, impossible creatures, and fascinating science, all put together in a way that makes it seem so normal and real.

Frankly, I don’t know why they aren’t more popular.

And I recommend the audiobooks of each, because they are narrated by a full cast that adds to the immersive quality of the storytelling.

One final bit of praise: while this is definitely a trilogy, each book is remarkably self-contained. No cliffhangers, no “tune in next week!!”, none of that. Each volume is thorough and satisfying. I think I should like to read them again.

Try them out! Start with Airborn, then Skybreaker, then Starclimber.

 

 

My Best Books of 2015

85 books in all (38 in print, 47 on audio.)

Keep in mind that I am currently reading Jennifer A. Nielsen’s A NIGHT DIVIDED, and if I finish it during the Christmas break, it will very likely make this list. Others would have made the list, but I tried to keep it pretty narrowed down.

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BUNTLINE SPECIAL, by Mike Resnick. A fast and fluid twist on Western US history, where the Indians had magic and the frontiersman had steampunk-ish technology on their side, and larger-than-life historical personalities brought their various interests to bear against each other. Very interesting, great dialogue, and a great pace. Cons: language and sensual content. (F-bombs, and there’s a brothel in the story. Nothing happens in-scene, but it’s discussed.)

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LEAVES ON THE WIND, by Zack Whedon (& team). A wonderful trip back into the depths of the ‘Verse for fans of Firefly. Plenty of characters from the TV show & movie pop up in new and interesting ways, and with the signature wit and warmth that made the cinematic versions so popular. (Content warning: there’s a scene near the beginning where Mal & Inara have some skin time.)

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AS YOU WISH by Cary Elwes. This is a heartwarming little account of the behind-the-scenes magic that made The Princess Bride such a successful film. I especially loved hearing the details about Andre the Giant’s life, and what everyone was like on set.
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ATOMIC ROBO, by Bryan Clevinger (& team). I read the first two volumes of this series this year, and I eagerly await the time that I can read the next several. Robo is half Iron Man, half Captain America, built by Tesla to kill supernatural Nazis in WW2…but his adventures don’t end there. The series hops around in time, and you get to see this sarcastic robot do everything from fighting mummies to traveling to Mars, and there’s not shortage of hilarious supporting cast members. What an absolute gem of a comic.

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ALEXANDER HAMILTON, by Ron Chernow. Glad I made the time for this series when I had a week of nothing but long haul runs to Reno and back. Hamilton was a very interesting man, and Chernow didn’t hold back when it came time to illustrate his flaws with all the same vigor that he used to highlight the man’s strengths. Completely indispensable during the American Revolution, regardless of whether he was ever President.

EVERWILD, EVERFOUND, by Neal Shusterman. This man’s imagination never ceases to amaze me. His unique take on the afterlife is a breath of fresh air in an era of YA that is all based on an established lore or mythology. Highly recommend.

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MAKESHIFT MIRACLE, by Jim Zubkavich (& team). A beautiful watercolor comic about a group of teens that cross over into a dream realm and learn some truths about themselves. The entirety of this comic is available for free online, but after reading it I purchased the two-volume set in hardcover for my personal library. While at times sad and heavy to bear, the ending is rather moving, and moves one to feel hope.

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THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, by David McCullough. I get why every child in America can’t spend an entire week on just two of the most important inventors in our nation’s history (because we’ve had a ton of them), but holy cow…McCullough brought up details of Wilbur and Orville’s story that I’d never heard before, and it’s amazing what people can do when they’re driven to accomplish something all on their own. (And I found it especially funny that they did with $1,000 and their own time that the government couldn’t do with $70,000.)

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THE FOOD OF SPAIN by Claudia Roden. Thanks, Claudia. Now I’m Spain-trunky, and dying for a jamon y queso sandwich.

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THE HOLLOW BOY by Jonathan Stroud. Third in a series, and it doesn’t quit. Fans of Sherlock will recognize the feel of a wonderfully fleshed-out London that is overrun with ghosts, and can only be saved by the teenagers capable of seeing them. I can’t say much about the third installment without recapping too much from the first two. I’m just glad that when it ended, it made it clear that there would be more.

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THE BARBIZON DIARIES by James Owen. Holy $#!t. If DRAWING OUT THE DRAGONS was going to make you re-think your own toughness and motivation, imagine going through what Owen did in this one.

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FIRES OF INVENTION by J. Scott Savage. Wow. Savage saved some of his best writing–and his most entertaining ideas–for this series, and it deserves to take a huge bite of Riordan’s audience and drag it down into a steampunk apocalypse. Plus, mechanical dragons! Waaaaaaaant.

 

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THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE TRIPOLI PIRATES by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yeager. Keeping up with the historical pieces I read this year, this one did not disappoint. Just a further testament that in the hardest moments of this nation’s early history, stronger men than I am would rise to the occasion and fight tyranny in the name of freedom. These are the people that we honor on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, and after you read these accounts, you’ll never doubt why.